Singing Insect Season Opens

by Carl Strang

Saturday was the spring bird count, and for the first time in recent years I was able to participate. In the early afternoon we were standing on a grassy hill, scanning a pond for water birds in Timber Ridge Forest Preserve, when my ear caught a faint, brief buzzing sound. Then, another. By then my attention had been pulled away from birds, as it seemed I had heard northern green-striped grasshopper displays. I was unable to take the time to confirm it that day, but the next day when I returned I heard many.

Male green-striped grasshopper

Male green-striped grasshopper

Those first observations brought with them the season’s first new question. I was hearing many distinct, if low-volume crepitations, enough to declare the singing insect season open. I did not see any of the grasshoppers, however. Usually their display flights are reasonably conspicuous if you are looking for them. It was moderately windy, though. Were they able to get a normal display out of a shorter, lower flight? Were they somehow rattling their wings without flying? Perhaps later in the season, when displaying grasshoppers are more abundant, I’ll be able to find out.

Incidentally, that May 4 first date is middle-of-the-road. The earliest displays I have observed for that species in DuPage County were on April 3 of last year. The latest starting date was May 16 in 2008. This insect overwinters as a nymph, and so is able to complete its development early in the season.

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